Cruiseships face fjord restrictions

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The Norwegian government intends to impose stricter requirements on cruiseships entering the country’s famous fjords. After years of concerns about emissions that pollute both the air and the fjords themselves, nearly half of those now sailing in may be banned from 2019.

The state has long been concerned about pollution generated by cruiseships, especially older ones. Now the government is setting stricter standards that may cut the number of cruiseships in Norway’s “World Heritage” fjords by half. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

“Our World Heritage fjords are an enormous resource,” Climate and Environment Minister Vidar Helgesen said on Norway’s nationwide newscast Dagsrevyen Sunday night. He was referring not only to the fjords’ scenic beauty that’s put some of them on the UNESCO World Heritage list, but also to the tourism revenues the ships generate.

“But then we have to take care of the fjords, and make sure there won’t be clouds of exhaust hanging over them on days when there’s no wind,” Helgesen continued. He also wants to keep the fjords cleaner than they are now, during the busy summer cruise season.

Helgesen has thus asked Norwegian maritime authorities to draw up new regulations for cruiseship traffic to reduce emissions of nitrogen oxide (NOX) and sulfur, and prohibit the cruiseships from dumping their sewage in the fjords.

Helgesen’s ministry has already determined that nearly half of the cruiseships now sailing into Norwegian fjords were built before  2000. “They don’t meet modern environmental standards, ” Helgesen said, “and that will mean that some of the shipowning companies will need to swap them with newer ships if they want to sail into the fjords.”

Older ships like this one in the Aurland Fjord are likely to be forced out, because of their emissions. PHOTO: newsinenglish.no

The new restrictions will apply to the Nærøy-, Aurland-, Geiranger- and Synnulvs fjords, plus the most inner portion of the Tafjord. All attract tens of thousands of cruise tourists every year.

The plan brought immediate objections from local officials in Aurland, who fear a fall-off in tourism and the revenues it generates, while environmental organizations such as Bellona were thrilled. Jan Kjetil Paulsen of Bellona said it was “about time” the government put some restrictions on all the cruise traffic in some of Norway’s most fragile environments.

“When we offer these fjords to tourists as part of the world heritage, we should set stricter demands than we do now,” Paulsen told NRK. “There are too many ships in the fjords at the same time.” He suggested having the large ships anchor outside the Geiranger Fjord, for example, and shuttle visitors in on smaller electric vessels. Norway already is working on electric ferry service and is a world leader in the use of electric vehicles.

Officials in Geiranger have been worried about air pollution for years and were likely to welcome restrictions as well, but Aurland Mayor Noralv Distad was more worried about a loss of tourism revenue. “This can lead to a reduction in the numbers of ship arrivals, and there will be fewer tourists,” said Distad, from Helgesen’s own Conservative Party. “Tourism is our main source of income and we rely on it.”

He claimed the World Heritage fjords are still in good shape. He conceded to a possible need for stricter emissions requirements in the future, “but then the rules should apply to the whole country or internationally. Differentiating the fjords is no good solution.” He feared it would put Aurland at a competitive disadvantage.

Sandra Diana Bratland, director of the Cruise Norway firm that markets Norway as a cruise destination, told NRK that everyone wants a greener industry, but that Helgesen is moving too quickly. “The cruise lines plan their summer programs two to three years in advance,” Bratland said. “If they need to adapt or replace ships, they need more time than two years (until 2019).”

She admitted that many would gladly see some of the oldest ships disappear. “But it takes time to restructure,” she said. “We can have a good dialogue with the maritime authorities and shipowners to find the best solution.”

Helgesen doesn’t see his plan as a threat to the cruise business. “The biggest threat to the tourism industry is that our World Heritage fjords can be destroyed by exhaust and traffic so tight that the value of the attraction disappears,” he said.

newsinenglish.no/Nina Berglund